Criminal Justice Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 15th July 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Condon Lord Condon Crossbench 6:00 pm, 15th July 2003

I rise to make a brief contribution. I apologise to earlier speakers who I did not hear, but I was unavoidably delayed. As a former commissioner, I always believed that the jury trial was at the heart of the criminal justice system. I still believe that it should be changed only if there are compelling reasons, and I am not convinced. A personal observation that I would add—I think I probably have a unique personal experience this year over your Lordships—is that I stood as a defendant for five weeks in No. 2 court at the Old Bailey on a health and safety charge. Although my liberty was not at risk and I was not financially at risk, my reputation and the future of operational policing was at risk in many respects.

I realised within a few days who I wanted to adjudicate on those important issues. I looked across at the good men and women of the jury and I was absolutely content and reassured that it was a jury adjudicating on the issue and not some other form of tribunal. So I find myself, perhaps against the stereotype, wishing to preserve and protect the role of the jury at the heart of the criminal justice system.

However, if noble Lords are not prepared to contemplate any change to trial by jury under any circumstances, then a number of things will need to follow from that. Although I was full of admiration for the jury in my case who, I think, came to the right conclusion, it was interesting to see how that jury was empanelled and how a group of 40 to 50 people was whittled down to the jury that finally served in the trial. Once the judge made it apparent that the trial would last for at least five weeks, everyone wearing a suit and tie disappeared from consideration. Once it was reinforced that the trial would last for at least five or six weeks, the penny dropped and people began to come up with—I must be unkind here—contrived excuses which were allowed.

If we are not to contemplate any change to trial by jury, then we must ensure that juries are truly representative and that people are not allowed to escape the duty spoken of by noble Lords earlier in the debate. It is a duty that must be fulfilled by a wider range of society than is provided by the narrowness and arbitrariness of parts of the current selection process. So in relation to serious and complex cases, if people are expected to sit for three, six or nine months, then there must be a fair distribution of responsibility as regards who sits on such trials.

The only other point I wish to make concerns jury tampering. Many of my former colleagues, chief constables, feel passionately about this issue and consider that trial by judge is the only way forward. I understand where they come from in their argument, but I do not share in its force. Like other noble Lords, I believe that the remedies must lie in better protection of juries. However, the price to pay for that protection will be very intrusive; that is, more intrusive in jurors' lives than is currently the case. Again, that is something that we should be prepared to do.

So I find myself in agreement with those who have grave anxiety about removing trial by jury, even in a limited number of cases. But if we are not to contemplate any change, then we must consider how to reinforce the role of our jurors, who will sit as jurors, and the protection they are given.